Last month, I made an overnight trip to Portland primarily to have dinner at a Russian restaurant, which would turn into one of my most memorable meals of the year. The whole weekend was actually full of good food, as I enjoyed two other new-to-me restaurants, while hitting old favorites HA+VL and Tanuki.
First up was brunch at Navarre. Bread here is a must, and it comes with several options. French butter was my choice, but there are also a couple of olive oils and homemade jam, though you might want to save some bread to sop up sauces from the dishes that follow. You fill out your menu scorecard at the table before handing it to your server (another point of interest: get your own coffee/tea at the counter). Be sure to focus on a few of the Lebanese specials, though the whole menu is interesting at this European-focused restaurant.
Next, another brunch, this time at Cafe Castagna. As the menu is Middle Eastern, be prepared for dishes that feature interesting ingredients and “unusual” spicing. Quality is high, as you’d expect from a Castagna experience.
The final meal of the overnight trip was at Kachka. This Russian restaurant wowed me with its sandwich at Feast Portland earlier in the year, and would provide a fascinating dinner that ranks as one of the most memorable meals I ate in 2014. My small group of four explored the menu, sampling from the cold and hot zakuski, dumplings, mains, and pickles (& things). We even sampled a vodka flight, though I’d recommend trying the infused vodkas if you’re not an enthusiast. (The horseradish vodka was fascinating.) Here are the photos, with apologies for the poor lighting (appropriate to the atmosphere, which was fun without being kitschy…and I should add that the service is informative and attentive).
Catching up on a couple of quests from previous visits…I finally made it to Apizza Scholls to sample the much-lauded pizza. My group went about 25 minutes pre-opening to ensure immediate seating, and it was a good thing we didn’t arrive much later. In the midst of a big food weekend (Whiskey Soda Lounge would follow), we ordered two pizzas. Definitely high quality (I recall that I especially liked the crust), but I still like DiFara (in Brooklyn) best, and would place Pizzeria Bianco (in Phoenix) above it as well.
Finally, I did a two-part dinner one night while driving through Portland in search of quality boat noodle soup. This dish doesn’t really exist in Seattle, and I was hoping to find something equivalent to what I’ve had at Sapp Coffee Shop in Los Angeles. First stop would be at Sen Yai, Andy Ricker’s noodle joint. Here you can get a variety of noodles either stir-fried or in soup. Ingredient quality is high, such that the broth is refined and delicious. But no offal in the soup, as one of the workers told me that something like pork blood “just wouldn’t sell.”
Later that night, I hit Mekong Bistro for their version of boat noodle soup. Not surprisingly, the price at Mekong was cheaper ($8 vs. $11), and my soup would happily contain both tripe and pork blood pieces. This Cambodian restaurant has a rather expansive menu with more items (soup noodles and otherwise) I’d like to try someday.